Evaluating Weight Loss Programs

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					                                                                 Fact Sheet 405

          Evaluating Weight Loss Programs

    ncreasing emphasis on health
                                               Myth Versus Truth
                                      Weight control “experts” seem to be every-
    and fitness is motivating
                                   where. Although some are well-trained profes-
    many Americans to try to       sionals, others are self-proclaimed and have
lose weight, and the weight        little or no qualifications. Some of the informa-
reduction business has become      tion consumers are exposed to is sound, some
very profitable. Unfortunately,    contains partial truth, and other information is
there are many myths about         actually false.
                                      Nutrition professionals try to provide the
controlling weight. This fact      public with recommendations based on scien-
                                   tific research. Rather than make exaggerated
                                   claims of “magical remedies” or “revolution-
                                   ary” discoveries, they are cautious in their
                                      In contrast, nonscientific “experts” often mix
                                   facts with personal views. They are very enthu-
                                   siastic about their products and their plans, but
                                   they also are often misleading; sometimes they
                                   are just out to make money through fraud. Be
                                   suspicious of a weight loss plan that suggests
                                   any of the following:
                                     • Your diet must differ greatly from the rec-
                                       ommendations given in the Dietary Guide-
                                       lines for Americans and the Food Guide
                                       Pyramid. (See back page.)
                                     • The diet plan promotes or emphasizes
                                       dietary supplements or herbal products.
                                     • The diet plan requires that you purchase
                                       special foods that are only available
                                       through a weight-loss center.
                                     • The diet plan is heavily endorsed through
                                       testimonials by athletes, movie stars, and
                                       other celebrities.
                                     • The diet plan claims to be a cure-all for a
                                       number of different medical conditions.
   • Any of the following phrases are used                                  blood pressure, or if you
     to describe the diet plan:
      —   “Lose weight overnight”
      —   “Melt away pounds”
      —   “Nothing to it!”
      —   “Miracle diet” or “effortless
      —   “Secret ingredient” or “magic
           new method”
      —   “Amazing new discovery” or
      —   “Natural health” or “nature’s
      —   “Special life-giving properties”
      —   “Ancient remedy” or “new
           European method”
      —   “Revitalize” or “renew” sexual
   Maintain a healthy skepticism of
diet products and programs that make
rash claims. Nutrition misinformation
in books, magazines, and the Internet
floods the market because it is a lucrative
business.                                                  have been sedentary for a long time, check
                                                           first with your physician.
     Who and What to Believe                                  Although there are many types of weight-
                                                           management programs available, includ-
   If you want accurate information about
                                                           ing commercial, clinical, and do-it-yourself
law, you go to a lawyer—not to an ath-
                                                           programs, their long-term success is dismal.
lete or a movie star. If you want to go on a
                                                           Studies show that, on the average, people
d i e t , seek out authorities in the field of
                                                           lose about 10 percent of their body weight
               nutrition. In nutrition, experts
                                                           but regain two-thirds of this weight within
                          include nutritionists,
                                                           one year after ending the program. Within
                           registered dietitians,
                                                           five years, almost all the weight is gained
                           physicians and nurs-
                               es who specialize
                                                              The Institute of Medicine, a unit of the
                                in weight control,
                                                           National Academy of Sciences, published
                                  and Extension
                                                           a report that raises questions about the
                                  educators who
                                                           safety and effectiveness of popular weight-
                                 are trained to
                                                           loss programs. The report, “Weighing the
                              guide you with
                                                           Options: Criteria for Evaluating Weight-
                              food selection and
                                                           Management Programs,” states that weight-
                                   preparation. If
                                                           loss programs should emphasize long-term
                                   you are older
                                                           weight management rather than short-term
                            than 40 and want to
                                                           weight loss. The goal should not be sim-
                             start an exercise pro-
                                                           ply losing weight for appearance’s sake but
                            gram but have medi-
                                                           rather for improving overall health. Even
                            cal problems such
                                                           for people who are very heavy, losing as
                                   as heart disease,
                                                           few as ten to fifteen pounds can reduce
                            diabetes or high

                                                          as well as the percentage of clients for
                                                          whom this information is available.
                                                          If this information is not available or
                                                          consists mainly of testimonials or other
                                                          anecdotal evidence, be suspicious of
                                                          the program. Program managers have
                                                          a responsibility to provide consumers
                                                          with truthful and unambiguous infor-
                                                          mation that is neither misleading nor
                                                          likely to be misinterpreted.
                                                        • Know the credentials and qualifications
                                                          of the people running the program.
                                                        • Ask for detailed information about
                                                          potential health risks. For example, peo-
                                                          ple who lose weight rapidly while on a
                                                          very low-fat diet are at risk for gall blad-
                                                          der disease.
                                                        • Be realistic about what you hope to
                                                          accomplish through the program and
                                                          be willing to devote the time and effort
blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides             required to attain your goal.
(fats), lower elevated blood pressure, and              • Avoid diets of less than 800 calories a
decrease abnormally high levels of blood                  day except under medical supervision.
glucose (sugar), which are associated with
diabetes. These changes may reduce the risk             • Look for a weight-management program
of coronary heart disease. Losing weight                  that includes an exercise program tailored
also reduces the risks of osteoarthritis, sleep           to you. People who have been sedentary
apnea (difficulty in breathing during sleep),             should begin to exercise slowly and mod-
and certain cancers. It also may have impor-              erately, then gradually increase the inten-
tant psychological benefits by boosting self-             sity and duration of their activities.
esteem.                                                  The report recommends that consumers
   Individuals trying to lose weight should           pay attention to their overall health while
select programs that emphasize a bal-                 on a weight-management program. Before
anced diet, promote the principles of good            beginning, they should consult with a phy-
nutrition, and encourage physical activity.           sician if they have high blood pressure,
Research shows that the people who are most           diabetes, or other conditions related to obe-
successful in keeping weight off are those            sity. The report also points out the need for
who make exercise a regular, permanent part           scientists to learn more about the causes of
of their lifestyle.                                   obesity so that more effective weight-man-
   The Institute of Medicine report offers            agement programs can be designed.
these guidelines and strategies for selecting a
weight-management program that you can
stick to:
    • Find a program that can back its adver-
      tising and promotional claims with
      proof that the program works. For
      example, a program should be able to
      provide statistics showing the percent-
      age of clients who have lost weight and
      not regained it for one and two years,

     Dietary Rules for
 Commonsense Weight Control
  Most Americans live in an environment
where high-calorie foods are plentiful, inex-
pensive, and heavily advertised, and this has
contributed to an epidemic of obesity in this
country. Controlling your weight may not
be easy, but you can increase your chance
of success by following a commonsense
approach. Your diet plan should:
  • Satisfy all your nutritional needs;
  • Protect you from hunger between meals,
    give you a sense of well-being, and not
    make you feel tired;
  • Be one that, with suitable caloric modi-
    fications, you can use as a pattern for                                       • Include exercise or physical activities
    lifetime eating;                                                                you enjoy.
  • Be easy for you to stay on, whether at                                       If you are interested in reading a diet or
    home or away, without making you feel                                     nutrition book, it is a good idea to check
    uncomfortable;                                                            with your local Extension office to see if the
                                                                              book is a reputable source of information.
  • Come as close as possible to your per-                                    You can also visit the American Dietetic
    sonal eating habits and tastes;                                           Association’s “Good Nutrition Reading List”
  • Use foods readily available from the                                      (under “Nutrition Resources”) at their web-
    supermarket; and                                                          site: http://www.eatright.org.

     Are You Overweight?                                   Height
    Here are two useful methods to                         shoes)
  check your weight status:                                 6' 6"
                                                            6' 5"
  1. Using the chart at the right, find                     6' 4"
     the point where your height and                        6' 3"
     weight intersect to see if you are                     6' 2"
     at a healthy weight. The higher                        6' 1"
     weights in the “Healthy Weight”                        6' 0"
     range apply to people with more                       5' 11"

                                                                                                                        i gh

     bone and muscle.

                                                           5' 10"

  2. Calculate your Body Mass Index

                                                            5' 9"

     (BMI), which might be a more

                                                            5' 8"

     accurate way of determining if you
                                                                                                               lth y

                                                            5' 7"

     are overweight than just weighing                      5' 6"

     yourself on a scale.                                   5' 5"

                                                                                                         ra t

                                                            5' 4"
     To calculate your BMI, multiply

                                                            5' 3"
  your weight in pounds by 705, divide


                                                            5' 2"
  this number by your height in inches,

                                                            5' 1"
  and then divide this result by your                       5' 0"
  height in inches again. A BMI between                    4' 11"
  21 and 25 indicates a healthy weight.                    4' 10"
  As the BMI increases above 25, the risk
                                                                       50       75       100       125       150       175       200     225   250
  of heart disease and diabetes also rises.
                                                                                               Pounds (without clothes)

               Source: Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 1995, pages 23-24.


Brownell, K.D. 1988. The LEARN Program for          Sizer, F. and Whitney, E. 1997. Nutrition
  Weight Control. University of Pennsylvania           Concepts and Controversies (7th Ed.).
  School of Medicine, Philadelphia.                    Wadsworth Publishing Company, New
Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion,             York.
  U.S. Department of Agriculture. URL:              U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Depart-
  <http://www.usda.gov/fcs/cnpp.htm>.                 ment of Health and Human Services. 1995.
Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug               Nutrition and Your Health, Dietary Guidelines
  Administration, National Association of             for Americans (4th Ed.). Home and Garden
  Attorneys General. 1992. The Facts About            Bulletin No. 232. U.S. Government
  Weight Loss Products and Programs. U.S.             Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
  Government Printing Office, Washington,           U.S. Department of Health and Human
  D.C.                                                Services. 1996. “Physical Activity
Food and Nutrition Board, National                    and Health: A Report of the Surgeon
  Academy of Sciences. Weighing the Options:          General.” Centers for Disease Control and
  Criteria for Evaluating Weight-Management           Prevention, National Center for Chronic
  Programs. 1995. National Academy Press,             Disease Prevention and Health Promotion,
  Washington, DC.                                     Atlanta, GA.
National Institutes of Health. 1998.                Weight-control Information Network,
  “Clinical Guidelines on the Identification,        National Institute of Diabetes and
  Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight            Digestive and Kidney Diseases. URL:
  and Obesity in Adults.” URL: <http://              <http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health/nutrit/
  www.nhlbi.nih.gov/nhlbi/                           nutrit.htm>.
  nhlbi.htm>.                                       Woteki, C.E. and Thomas, P.R. 1992. Eat for
Quackwatch. “Your Guide to Health Fraud,             Life: The Food and Nutrition Board’s Guide
 Quackery, and Intelligent Decisions.” URL:          to Reducing Your Risk of Chronic Disease.
 <http://www.quackwatch.com>.                        National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

            Calories and Activity Level
        Calorie Values for 10 Minutes of Activity
This table shows the amount of calories an individual burns
up in 10 minutes doing some common activities. A heavier
person (250 pounds) uses up more calories for a given activity
than a lighter individual (125 pounds) because the former has
more weight to carry around and therefore must work harder.

                                          Body Weight
                                125            175        250
                               Pounds         Pounds   Pounds
  Personal Necessities
    Sleeping                       10           14       20
    Sitting (watching TV)          10           14       18
    Sitting (talking)              15           21       30
    Dressing or washing            26           37       53
    Standing                       12           16       24
    Walking downstairs              56          78      111
    Walking upstairs               146         202      288
    Walking at 2 mph                29          40       58
    Walking at 4 mph                52          72      102
    Running at 5.5 mph              90         125      178
    Running at 7 mph               118         164      232
    Running at 12 mph              164         228      326
    Cycling at 5.5 mph              42          58       83
    Cycling at 13 mph               89         124      178
    Making beds                    32           46       65
    Washing floors                 38           53       75
    Washing windows                35           48       69
    Dusting                        22           31       44
    Preparing a meal               32           46       65
    Shoveling snow                 65           89      130
    Light gardening                30           42       59
    Weeding garden                 49           68       98
    Mowing grass (power)           34           47       67
    Mowing grass (manual)          38           52       74
  Sedentary Occupation
    Sitting writing                15           21       30
    Light office work              25           34       50
    Standing, light activity       20           28       40
    Typing (electric)              19           27       39

                     continued on next page

Calories and Activity Level (continued)

                                        Body Weight
                               125        175         250
                              Pounds     Pounds    Pounds

  Light Work
     Assembly line                20       28          40
     Auto repair                  35       48          69
     Carpentry                    32       44          64
     Bricklaying                  28       40          57
     Farming chores               32       44          64
     House painting               29       40          58
  Heavy Work
     Pick & shovel work            56       78        110
     Chopping wood                 60       84        121
     Dragging logs                158      220        315
     Drilling coal                 79      111        159
     Badminton                    43       65          94
     Baseball                     39       54          78
     Basketball                   58       82         117
     Bowling (nonstop)            56       78         111
     Canoeing (4 mph)             90      128         182
     Dancing (moderate)           35       48          69
     Dancing (vigorous)           48       66          94
     Football                     69       96         137
     Golfing                      33       48          68
     Horseback riding             56       75         112
     Ping-pong                    32       45          64
     Racquetball                  75      104         144
     Skiing (alpine)              80      112         160
     Skiing (water)               60       88         130
     Skiing (cross country)       98      138         194
     Squash                       75      104         144
     Swimming (backstroke)        32       45          64
     Swimming (crawl)             40      56           80
     Tennis                       56       89         115
     Volleyball                   43       65          94
Source: Brownell, K.D. 1988. The LEARN Program for Weight

                                                 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
• Eat a variety of foods
• Balance the food you eat with physical activity—maintain or improve your weight
• Choose a diet with plenty of grain products, vegetables, and fruits
• Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol
• Choose a diet moderate in sugars
• Choose a diet moderate in salt and sodium
• If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation

From: U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 1995. “Nutrition and Your Health:
Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” 4th ed.

                                                                   Food Guide Pyramid
                     To lose weight, choose the lower number of servings in each food group.

                       Fats, Oils, and Sweets
                       USE SPARINGLY

                       Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese                                                                                       Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry
                       Group                                                                                                     Beans, Eggs, and Nuts Group
                                                                                                                                               2-3 SERVINGS

                       Vegetable Group                                                                                                                  Fruit Group
                       3-5 SERVINGS                                                                                                                  2-4 SERVINGS

                                                                                                                                              Bread, Cereal, Rice,
                                                                                                                                                 and Pasta Group
                                                                                                                                                  6-11 SERVINGS

The Food Guide Pyramid. 1992. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

                                                            Evaluating Weight Loss Programs
                                                                        Mark A. Kantor
                                                            Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist
                                                           Department of Nutrition and Food Science
                                                             University of Maryland, College Park

  Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, University of Maryland, College Park,
  and local governments. Thomas A. Fretz, Director of Maryland Cooperative Extension, University of Maryland.
  The University of Maryland is equal opportunity. The University’s policies, programs, and activities are in conformance with pertinent Federal and State laws and regulations on
  nondiscrimination regarding race, color, religion, age, national origin, sex, and disability. Inquiries regarding compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended; Title
  IX of the Educational Amendments; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990; or related legal requirements should be directed
  to the Director of Personnel/Human Relations, Office of the Dean, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Symons Hall, College Park, MD 20742.


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